If you’re recently separated or divorced or struggling with child support issues, you’re probably wondering, “How is child support calculated in Alberta?”
Child support is payments made from one parent to another to support a child. It is an obligation to the child, not to the parent. The purpose is to support the raising of the child. The relationship between the parents (such as married, common law, or any other type of relationship) does not have any impact on calculating child support.
Child support in Alberta follows two Guidelines:
- Federal Child Support Guidelines – part of the Divorce Act; applies to parents who are divorcing or changing a child support order; and
- Alberta Child Support Guidelines – part of the Family Law Act; applies to all other parents. Read more about these Guidelines in Alberta’s General Child Support Information Guide.
In Alberta, child support lasts until the child reaches 18 years of age, unless the child has an illness or disability, or is enrolled in post-secondary education.
3 Key Factors Used to Determine Child Support in Alberta
The Government of Canada establishes the base amount of child support a parent is obligated to pay. These amounts are outlined in the Child Support Table Look-Up and are calculated based on 3 key factors:
- The province or territory in which the payor lives
- The number of children in the recipient’s custody that the payor is obligated to support
- The guideline income of the payor
The “payor” is the parent who is obligated to pay child support. The “recipient” is the parent to whom the payor provides the child support payments.
If the parents live in different provinces, territories, or countries, the basic child support amount may be affected.
Number of Children
In addition to the number of children the payor supports, the child support amount may be impacted by the ages and any special needs of the child(ren).
The payor’s pre-tax income is a key factor, but in some situations, both parents’ income may be considered.
Deviation from the Guidelines are allowed in certain circumstances, such as when the payor’s income exceeds $150,000 per year or in situations of undue hardship. These variations highlight the need to consult a lawyer to help you determine appropriate child support amounts.
How Income is Calculated to Determine Child Support
Typically, the income used to calculate child support is based on the payor’s gross annual income (minus any union dues paid). This can be found on line 150 of their income tax return or a notice of assessment from the CRA. Alternatively, you can add up the pre-tax amount on the pay stubs for a full year of work.
The child support amount can vary in some cases, such as when the:
- payor’s income varies widely from year to year
- payor is self-employed
- payor is intentionally unemployed (or under-employed)
- payor’s income includes a one-time income source
- payor has investment income
- payor has tax-free income
Especially if your job or income situation is complicated, consulting a family law lawyer is recommended.
Child Support Calculations Based on Custody Agreements
In addition to the above factors, your child custody arrangement will also affect the child support calculation.
Child Support Calculations When the Children Live Primarily with One Parent
When the child lives primarily with one parent, the base child support amount is what the Child Support Table Look-Up from the federal government shows. The parent who has custody of the children most of the time is the recipient of the child support. The parent who does not have primary custody is the payor.
Child Support Calculations for Shared Custody
Shared custody is when the child lives with each parent for approximately equal amounts of time over the course of a year. The child must spend at least 40% of the time with each parent. In this case, the calculation is more involved.
Using the Child Support Table Look-Up, calculate the amount for each parent. This will generate two different child support payment amounts. The higher income parent will pay the difference between those two amounts.
Child Support Calculations for Split Custody
A split custody arrangement is when there are two or more children and each parent has primary custody of one or more of the children.
Using the Child Support Table Look-Up, calculate the amount for each parent. The difference between those two amounts is the monthly child support payment. The payor is the parent for whom the calculator generated the highest amount.
What Does Child Support Cover?
The purpose of child support is to cover the basic living expenses of the child including housing and transportation. It also includes special expenses which are defined as necessary (in the child’s best interests) and reasonable (taking the parents’ financial situation into consideration). Special expenses include things like:
- child care,
- education costs (including post-secondary tuition fees),
- extracurricular activity costs, and
- dental and medical expenses for the child.
These special expenses are usually divided based on the proportionate income of the parents. For example, if both parents have the same income, they would each pay for half of the special expenses. However, because every situation is different, the courts will decide on special and extraordinary expenses on an individual basis.
Child Support and COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in job layoffs, temporary business closures, and even temporary court closures in Alberta. This has a huge impact on Albertans who pay or receive child support.
Even during court closures or delays in court proceedings, child support payments are still payable.
If you are a child support payor or recipient, we suggest the following:
For the Payor
If you are the payor and a change in your employment situation has reduced your income, politely communicate with the other parent and request a temporary revision to your child support payments.
- Provide proof of your current income (such as your record of employment, a termination letter, pay stubs, or other correspondence showing reduced hours or government benefits you might be receiving.
- Use the Child Support Table Look-Up to recalculate payments based on your current status and request your payments be adjusted accordingly.
For the Recipient:
If you are the recipient and the payor needs to adjust the child support payments, be as flexible and accommodating as possible. Consider allowing installment payments or changing the payment dates.
For Both Payor and Recipient
Keep a paper trail of all communications about changes to your child support payments including:
- Email communications and/or text messages
- Child support calculations
- Records of payment
This documentation will ensure that any payment disputes, overpayment, or underpayment can be addressed and more easily resolved, if needed.
Help with Child Support
The Child Support Table Look-Up is a helpful tool to determine the base child support payments for your situation. However, every situation is different and some factors can significantly impact your payment amount. Changes to child support payments are sometimes necessary when circumstances change.
Because of the degree of variation in calculating child support in Alberta, you may wish to consult a family law lawyer. The experts at Osuji & Smith are available to help you calculate your child support payments and to answer questions or provide mediation in all areas of family law.